California law makes it illegal to possess and carry certain types of knives. Many are confused as to what types of knives are legal, and which types are illegal. For purposes of this blog we will seek to shed some light as to what constitutes legal carry of knives.
Per the penal code there are many types of “knives”, each with it's own description and set of laws. These include, ballistic knives, switch blades, folding knives, dirk or dagger, belt knives, assisted opening knives, disguised knives etc. As a general rule of thumb, most exotic types of blades are outright illegal for the common citizen to possess, sale, manufacture, etc. See California Penal Code Section 12020(a)(1) for detail.
What Types of knives can be legally carried?
The three most common types of knives are folding knives, switch blades and fixed blade knives also know as dirks or daggers. We will define each type of knife and explain the laws surrounding them.
Folding knives are knives that “opens with one hand utilizing thumb pressure applied solely to the blade of the knife or a thumb stud attached to the blade, provided that the knife has a detent or other mechanism that provides resistance that must be overcome in opening the blade, or that biases the blade back toward its closed position” . All folding knives are legal. California Penal Code Section 17235. As long as they are in the folded position they can be carried in a concealed manner. There is no blade length restriction per the penal code.
Switch blades are generally defined as knives that look like folding knives but lack the above elements. (thumb stud, bias toward the closed position etc). They include spring blades, snap blades, gravity knives or any knife which can be opened automatically. Automatically, meaning by a mechanism, spring, gravity, flick of the wrist etc. The blade must be 2 inches in length or longer in order to be classified as a switch blade. Switch blades are illegal to sell or give away. They are illegal to carry in public, concealed or open. Penal Code section 17235.
For fixed blades (known as a dirk or dagger), or a folding knife in the open and locked position, they must be carried “openly”. California Penal Code section 16470 classifies a dirk or dagger as a knife or instrument with or without a hand guard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death. Per the penal code there is no length limit as long as it is carried openly. A knife carried in a sheath that is worn openly suspended from the waist of the wearer is considered open carry and is legal. Penal code section 20200. Carrying a concealed dirk or dagger is illegal pursuant to Penal Code Section 12020(a)(4).
There are restrictions as to carrying knives when entering schools, Universities and Colleges, and Public buildings open to the public such as courts, city halls, police stations etc. For Schools K-12, no knives with blades longer than 2.5 inches are allowed unless they are required for particular work type duties. Razor blades and box cutters are also prohibited. Penal Code section 626.10. For colleges and Universities, no fixed blades bigger than 2.5 inches are allowed. However there is no restriction on folding knives as long as they don't fall under the category of switch blades. For state or local public buildings, it is illegal to carry any knife with a blade of more than 4 inches onto the premise. California Penal Code Section 171b.